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I can't wait to get into thick of Ulster play-off quest: Best


By Jonathan Bradley

If a week is a long time in politics, two and a half months can seem an eternity in rugby. Back in the final throes of January, Ulster had lost nine of their last 13 games following an embarrassing home defeat to a Bordeaux-Begles side severely lacking in motivation.

That result left them rock bottom of their European pool after another fruitless continental campaign, while their league showing hadn't been much better.

But after the airing of some home truths, Les Kiss' men have regrouped, reeled off six wins in a row for the first time since 2014 and are looking to make it seven tomorrow night when Cardiff Blues visit Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm kick-off).

While there is plenty of work still to do over the final four games, the province's play-off prospects certainly look healthier now too, sitting as they do in fourth place and three points ahead of the chasing Scarlets.

And all this, as the man himself wryly notes, having been without the services of the talismanic Rory Best.

"I haven't actually won in an Ulster jersey in 2017 which is slightly worrying," laughed the Ireland skipper who has not featured since the early weeks of the year thanks to the Six Nations.

"It's hard to believe that Bordeaux game was the end of January so I can't wait to get back out there against Cardiff.

"Playing international rugby is great but there's always something special about getting back with your province, especially at home. It's just exciting to pull on that white jersey again.

"The results have been good for us. We've put ourselves in a position that at the end of January people didn't think we'd be in, people were sort of writing off the season for us back then.

"They were fixtures that we knew we could win but we also had to go out there and do it if we were going to stay in the race for the top four. We've done that now and our destiny is in our own hands."

Ulster's lack of silverware in recent times is well documented - Best is one of only four players still in the squad from the Celtic League title win back in 2006 - and the hooker who has had plenty of memorable days of late leading Ireland admits talk will be considered cheap until the drought is ended.

"We always have a lot of belief in our ability and how good we are but we have to back that up on the pitch," said the 34-year-old.

"That's what good teams do. We weren't doing it back then (earlier in the season). We're starting to do it now but we also know that there's a vast improvement that can come from us.

"I'm always positive about Ulster, and I still think there's a lot to feel positive about, but at the end of the day it's about making sure that it's not words, it's actions."

And that must continue tomorrow with Cardiff, he warned.

"This is a really important one for us," he added.

"You always talk about the intense pockets of competition and it's a long league, but the run-in starts now.

"We have to keep the pressure on Scarlets as well as the teams ahead of us.

"I think, being realistic, you have to be perfect or pretty close to it. If you slip up once you can maybe sneak in but if you lose twice, forget about it. There are good teams around us and they will definitely capitalise on any slips."

Rory Best was speaking at a 'Best for Breakfast' event yesterday as fans travelled from across Northern Ireland to get up close and personal with the Glenisk Brand Ambassador and question him on all things rugby.

  • Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Guinness PRO12 Championship: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm

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